Do you fancy being a house-sitter, caring for other people's pets while you earn extra cash? Or do you need a sitter for when you're away? Either way, here's everything you need to know
Becoming a home-sitter can be a great option for those with the right lifestyle and inclination as well as a love of animals. It’s a flexible role, which allows you to do as many assignments as you wish each year.
You get the chance to travel to different parts of the UK and explore new areas, caring for a variety of pets – with the possibility of staying in a luxurious home for weeks at a time.
In some cases, you may even have the opportunity to take on assignments abroad.
While the financial rewards from home-sitting are relatively small, they can be a welcome extra. Also, by moving into someone else’s home, you can save on bills at your own property.
Anyone of any age can home-sit, but the role may be particularly appealing to those in later life who want to explore part-time working rather than giving up work completely. For an older sitter, the role can be refreshing, rewarding, and sociable – and a good way to stay active, because you may be out walking dogs several times a day, for example.
Home-sitting – what’s involved?
What are my responsibilities?
You will usually be required to maintain the pet’s routine where feeding, grooming and exercise are concerned, as well as providing general care and companionship.
Further to this, you may be expected to pick up post, water houseplants, do some light gardening, and make sure everything runs smoothly. You will also be expected to keep the property clean, tidy and safe.
How much can I earn?
As a home-sitter you can expect to receive a modest remuneration to supplement your income or pension.
In addition, you can make savings on your own utility bills if you are away a lot – especially in the winter.
With Homesitters (Homesitters.co.uk), for example, you can earn around £20 a day – or around £150 a week – for looking after someone’s home and pets.
On top of that you will get a daily food allowance of £8.60, and a travel allowance.
With this site, there is no cost to becoming a home-sitter, but you do have to go through a rigorous vetting process, which includes a face-to-face interview and background checks, before being accepted as an employee.
With Cat in a Flat (catinaflat.com), you can set your own fees. Sitters usually charge between £20 and £35 for an overnight stay.
At TrustedHousesitters (Trustedhousesitters.com), you don’t get paid. However, you still get a travel experience without spending a penny on accommodation – and could well be abroad. Sitters do have to pay a membership fee of £89 – this is intended to give owners additional reassurance that sitters are providing their services for the right reasons.
What happens if something goes wrong?
You need to read the terms and conditions set out by the company you want to use, as rules about cover will vary.
With Homesitters, for example, sitters have access to a 24/7 support service, so if there should be any issues, the home-sitter can call for help and advice.
Sitters are also covered by comprehensive insurance while on an assignment, should anything go wrong.
With Cat in a Flat, all sitters are insured, provided the arrangement is booked and paid for by the pet owner through the Cat in a Flat platform.
Note that some services leave it to the homeowners and sitters to come to an agreement.
Getting someone to home-sit for you
What can you expect from a home-sitter?
If you need a home-sitter, look for vetted candidates with glowing references.
You can expect to meet the home-sitter ahead of the sit – so they can get to know your pets and the lay of the land. If this is not possible, you should try to speak to them over the phone or by Skype at the very least.
During the sit, you can expect the sitter to take good care of your home and your pets. You can also expect regular updates – including photos and videos of your pets.
In addition, you must reach an agreement with the sitter on the ‘rules’ for their stay in your home – such as whether they are allowed to invite guests over, items you don't want them to use, and the amount of time for which they can leave your property unattended.
With Homesitters, for example, the sitter is not allowed to leave the property for longer than three hours during the daytime, or more than one hour at night.
'We cared for two gorgeous dogs'
Anne and Cliff Law (above), aged 77 and 68, have been home-sitting since taking early retirement in 2010. In this time they have looked after numerous cats, dogs and other animals – including chickens, budgies and hamsters.
The couple, who are from Oxfordshire, attended an interview for Homesitters, and were then employed by the company. Prior to that, Cliff had worked in the motor industry for 33 years, and Anne had been employed as a care assistant in a pharmacy.
The Laws can now make more than £250 for a two-week home-sit.
Cliff says: “We receive a remuneration and food and travel allowance, and this money is a useful boost to our pensions. We also make savings on our own utility bills when we are not at home. But the main benefit is having the chance to visit different places, spend time with dogs and cats – and the opportunity for us to get lots of exercise walking dogs.”
The couple love the fact they get to stay in some beautiful homes.
Cliff says: “We recently did an assignment caring for two gorgeous dogs, in a huge old rectory in the Cotswolds countryside with stunning views.
“Most of the homes we stay in have beautiful gardens that are usually maintained by professional gardeners, so we are able to appreciate them without doing any of the work. Some of the homes also have swimming pools or cinema rooms, which is a real treat.”
Over the years, the couple has carried out more than 140 assignments. They now have a handful of regular clients, but still enjoy staying in new places.
“We like the fact that we get 24-hour support from Homesitters should we need any help or advice during a sit," says Cliff. "Knowing that we have a whole organisation supporting us is very reassuring.
“We also get great peace of mind from knowing we are fully insured.”
Is the service worth it?
Recent findings from price comparison site Gocompare showed the average cost of placing a dog in kennels is around £15 a day, and the average daily cost of placing a cat in a cattery is £10.
If you opt for a sitter who will look after your pet for free, the financial benefits are obvious.
With TrustedHousesitters, for example, you pay a membership fee of £89 and then get access to an army of verified sitters who will come and look after your home and pet for nothing.
While some firms will charge you for the sitter – with Homesitters, for example, you pay a setting-up fee of £36, then £53.80 plus VAT per day; with Cat in a Flat, you pay around £20 to £35 a day – getting someone to live in your home can still make good sense.
You can go away safe in the knowledge that your pet is in good hands, and in familiar surroundings. And you also have the peace of mind that your home is occupied.
Adam Powell from insurance specialist Policy Expert says: “Home-sitters can drastically reduce the chance of burglary, as well as permanent damage from leaking pipes, damaged electrics or fire and so on.
"These could add up to thousands of pounds if left unnoticed until your return.”
What protection is in place if something goes wrong?
Once again, you do need to read the Ts and Cs, because the rules will vary from one company to the next.
With Homesitters, insurance is provided; breakages in the home caused by a sitter are covered; and if the home-sitter falls ill or needs to leave while the owners are away, an appropriately qualified replacement will be found. In addition, homeowners have access to a 24/7 support service that they can call for help and advice.
TrustedHousesitters also offers homeowners access to 24-hour online and phone support. However, it doesn’t provide insurance as part of your membership.
If cover isn’t provided, you should consider arranging this privately. You should also establish some ground rules with the sitter at the outset.
'I feed the cats and give them lots of cuddles'
Jane Foster (above), who lives in West London, started cat-sitting for friends – and friends of friends – in their homes more than nine years ago, and has since turned her love of cats into a part-time job, alongside her main career in film.
She joined Cat in a Flat four years ago, and now gets many of her assignments via the site.
Jane says: “I work as a screenwriter and director, but I also love cats. Cat-sitting at other people’s houses while I’m working is a great way of combining my two passions. It doesn’t pay a fortune, but it’s a cute little add-on – and I’m very used to living out of a suitcase.”
Jane charges around £30 per overnight stay, though she will offer discounts on longer sits of a week or more.
“For this, I feed the cats and give them lots of cuddles,” she says. “I will usually also water plants, take in mail, and turn the lights on and off. Cat owners like the idea that their cats are being cared for, but they also like the fact their homes are being lived in.”
Jane is experienced with older cats and young kittens, and often sits for pedigree breeds, such as Siamese cats or British Shorthairs. “I love all cats, but I particularly like rescue cats, as they often have a timid nature and need some extra TLC,” she says. “I’ve been dubbed a ‘Mary Poppins’ for cats.”
She always asks the people she sits for to leave her an A4 page with details about their cat, and one with details about their home.
She likes the fact that she gets insurance via Cat in a Flat.
“This gives me peace of mind knowing I’m covered when living in other people’s homes and looking after their beloved pets,” she says. “It also gives the cat owners reassurance.”
*Other useful sites include Housecarers.com, Mindmyhouse.com, Animalangels.co.uk, Holidog.com and Rover.com.
ESTHER SHAW is a freelance journalist who writes about money and property for The Guardian, Observer and the Sunday Sun